Brian Lamb: Lobbying is crucial to our sector, so why no 'institute of campaigning'?

A threat to charity campaigning is posed not only by the lobbying act, but also by our own inability to demonstrate that we can make a difference in the long term, writes our columnist

It is time the campaigning sector had an official forum for sharing good practice, writes Brian Lamb
It is time the campaigning sector had an official forum for sharing good practice, writes Brian Lamb

As the debate on the lobbying act moves on to the problems of implementation, the sector needs to build on the powerful platform that it has created about the value of campaigning.

The conciliatory remarks made by Nick Hurd in his interview with Third Sector suggest that there is still much space to be claimed on this issue. Furthermore, although the public is broadly supportive of charity campaigning, we cannot assume that this will remain the case, especially given the repeated attacks from right-leaning think tanks and some MPs on campaigning and, in particular, its tactics.

Campaigning has moved on from being, as a colleague of mine once put it, "one of the last great amateur pursuits" in the voluntary sector. But we still have a long way to go to reach the level of development in Canada, which has its own public policy institute to support the voluntary sector in developing good practice on public policy and campaigning. In the UK, our fundraising and marketing colleagues have their own institutes and qualifications - so where are the pol-icy and campaigning equivalents?

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation recently hosted a conference on the question Is Campaigning Really Worth the Money? Speaking truth to power is satisfying, but this is not much good unless lives really do change as a result.

Campaigners often pride themselves on political nous and wisdom, which are acquired, not taught. But there is nothing magical about campaigning and the skills needed can be developed and honed.

Some people, of course, might have more aptitude, but passion alone is not enough. We know a lot about what works, but are poor at embedding this in a culture of professional development.

Yet there is much good practice to draw on and a growing body of case studies of particular campaigns. The trusts sector has played a fundamental role in this by not only supporting campaigning but also helping to assess the impact of its support. But the sector has few outlets for sharing such learning and no overall training and career path for campaigners.

Some of this gap is filled by the campaign effectiveness programme run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation's campaigner awards and annual conference. Initiatives such as the innovative Campaign Bootcamp, a week-long training programme that helps young campaigners to develop their skills, are also useful. There is also an apprentice-level qualification for campaigning and communications, but it is almost unknown.

At the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation conference, there was much discussion about what makes for effective campaigning. But there was also a consensus that trusts working with charities could share learning about what works more effectively. The UK might be still some way away from having an Institute for Advocacy and Public Policy, but there is more that could be done through the sharing of good practice and developing future capacity to do this better.

It is time that we looked at a better way of pulling together learning across the whole sector. A threat to charity campaigning is posed not only by the lobbying act, but also by our own inability to demonstrate that we can make a difference in the long term.

Brian Lamb is a consultant and chair of the NCVO's campaign effectiveness advisory board

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus